Heartbreak for Lester as Hopewell and Gumberg advance to Irish Challenge

Mark McGowan

Rowan Lester (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Rowan Lester lost out to American Jordan Gumberg on the third playoff hole at the Irish Challenge Monday Qualifier at Headfort as Australian Hayden Hopewell took top-qualifier honours.

With just two tickets to tee it up at the Kells venue later this week on offer, the eventual 40-man field had to play aggressively and Hopewell, a recent winner on the Australasia Tour, shot a five-under 66 to finish two ahead of Gumberg and Lester who were forced to duel it out in a playoff for the second spot.

Unable to be separated through the first two playoff holes, thanks in no small measure to a miraculous up-and-down from Lester on the first playoff hole, Gumberg finally secured his invitation on the third hole, leaving Hermitage man Lester bitterly disappointed, and though first alternate from the qualifier, highly unlikely to feature.


This isn’t the first time Gumberg has emerged victorious in a qualifier playoff against Irish opposition having defeated Tom McKibbin at U.S. Open Qualifying at Walton Heath earlier this year.

“It was a lot of fun,” Gumberg said afterwards. “Those play-offs are a blast, and it was great to come out on top. At one stage I thought we were going to play all 18. I like this course so much that I was happy to keep going.

“I told Rowan after the second play-off hole that that was one of the most incredible up and downs that I’ve ever seen. For it to be in a play-off too made it even more remarkable.

“Play-offs are always nerve wracking and it reminded me of my recent play-off against Tom McKibbin when I qualified for the U.S. Open. Tom was getting up and down from everywhere, holing putts from everywhere and I just had to remain patient and remind myself that my time will come and luckily it did.

“I’ve been striking the ball really nicely and I’m hitting a lot of greens but unfortunately not making any putts. I’m going to relax ahead of Thursday and try and get the speed of the green over the next couple of days.”

15-year-old Headfort member Tadhg Burns, the youngest player in the field, finished a very respectable 19th in the qualifier, accomplishing his pre-tournament goal of a top-25 finish, while Evan Shipp, the other local man in the field, finished solo ninth after a one-over 72.

Portumna’s Sam Murphy, runner-up at the East of Ireland Championship and winner of the Connacht Strokeplay, will head to Lahinch and the South of Ireland Championship instead after finishing tied for fifth at one-under.

Hopewell and Gumberg join a star-studded field in Kells this week, which includes Road to Mallorca Number Two Ugo Coussaud and Englishman Alex Fitzpatrick, who finished in a tie for 17th at the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club last week.

There is heavy Irish involvement with amateurs Liam Noland and Mark Power teeing it up alongside a dozen pros including John Murphy, who’s making his return to competitive golf having taken the decision to take a break following a loss of form since earning his DP World Tour Card at Q-School last November.

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